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False Starts

After a few false starts dotted into my life, like trig points on pathways and cairns in wild places, I came to the conclusion that false starts are frequent happenings in the lives those striving to build an alternative way to live their lives. A creative life often means trying different things to see what is not so that you can identify what is. I am sure that just changing jobs has had the same effect for many. We think this or that shift will be a good move only to find we’re getting paid just a wee bit more for doing much less of what we anticipated, what we’d really like to do. Interviewing many people of late I realised that few if any of the applicants had done or were doing what they would have truly fine inspiring.

A father and industry sector leader brings his daughter to experience a weeklong course with me. It resulted in one of the happiest weeks of their lives.

In the creative spheres of designing and building things from wood the result of building on faulty thoughts and without any financial backing to support you can have devastating effects. I know, I’ve done it. So would a business plan and all that that takes increase the probability of success or would it result in your ‘eyes-in-the-headlights‘ freezing to the spot.

A son wants to bring his 94 year old father to a short class after he himself had experienced hand tool woodworking with me for the first time.

I confess I have been to shows to display my new designs when I couldn’t pay for the first night’s hotel away from home and with four nights yet to come. I’d driven through three states for 1,700 miles over 30 hours with one 8-hour stopover to do it. My car was 20 years old with 250,000 miles on the clock; a Ford Country Squire Estate onto which I had built and bolted through the metal a red oak roof rack 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. I’d had an idea that I thought just might work. I remember the length of those long straight roads as if it was today. It was a lonely drive and police helicopters followed me from time to time to check my speed. I never knew such straight roads existed like that. I did it three times in three years using three different routes that all took the same time with only a few miles different. Oh, and I used the same old car for each journey but hooked on a U-Haul as I grew. It never let me down. The shows? I went from strength to strength with each one. My designs are now sold in ever state in the USA and the likelihood is that you’ve seen them in many of the gas and goes that cover the USA. Think Stuckey’s on the one hand and then Gander Outdoors who were formerly Gander Mountain. Successes on the one hand and then leaving me high and dry on the other. Gander Mountain went bankrupt at one stage and left me with an unpaid bill of $20,000 I never recovered.

Grey hairs begin emerge with experience but experience gives me confidence that I am making progress.

Not perhaps something in particular to boast about, but then too, I have learned that risking things can result in a success of a kind you cannot measure in bottom line calculations. there are other elements I feel are more important to some of us than financial security and ease. Those times mean some of the most wonderful memories for me where I took raw wood and planks and converted them into beautiful pieces of art. No one can buy me those memories of crossing deserts listening to the radio, country music and such and then too seeing those herds of wild horses and cacti high above me as I drove.

Pursuing dreams is less about security of work and stability for me but more about striving, striving against all odds to live a lifestyle I have grown to love. Business plans for me were jottings on cigarette packings and beer mats, the inside of an envelope. I did not care about bank loans and borrowing into debt but reinvesting every penny I made into the vision I had for living life to the full and designing my work. Reckless, cavalier? Maybe others will tell me I should have done this or that (as they often feel compelled to do), had a business plan, got some financial backers, to make more money for a better bottom line, but here’s the thing. I might never have sat on the tailgate of a vintage one-ton truck I bought for $150 to watch the orange ball turn deeper red as the sunsets of Texas often do. With my full load of mesquite logs I knew I had yet to drive a few miles in the dark through several gravel river bottoms yet it was this workload that brought (and my dad) such immeasurable delight. I could go on with my other tales of being self employed, making my pieces from raw trees yet to be slabbed but this is to say it was punctuations like that where I learned that without risking things, we mostly end up not achieving much at all. I know so many successful business people who have succeeded in developing businesses that then turned into income producing ventures. Whereas this reality exists everywhere, the ingredient that is often missing is that they created a business that wasn’t based on designing work that was, well, visually attractive, in spheres complementary to living a life filled with wood and tools and workbenches. A life style that is as enduringly durable and liveable as the designs and pieces you bring into life. Things just lovely to have. There is something about working with your hands that just brings the whole of life together. This fully orbed way of life is so intrinsic to creating beauty. In a new culture I see how seldom people see beyond trendiness to embrace the essence in the art of true craftsmanship. I see all the more that I missed how people perceive things – the pallet coffee table slapped together with a glass top, white wall paint and shiny bright steel casters. Now I am not saying people shouldn’t enjoy the trendy, just that it lacks the art of finer working that is all. Were I to put such a thing in my current living area it would indeed not fit. So what does it mean to ‘fit’? Well, were I to buy a flat in a vintage factory converted for living I think that the palletwood coffee table might fit its retro environment quite well, no doubt!

Risk is important. Of course it can lead to a big mess, but it can also take you beyond the boundaries of fear into the new millennium. Not many dad’s tell their children such things. All too often they say, “I just want you to be happy!” Well, what parent doesn’t want that for their children? But it is not necessarily an either or but a both. Think making Lifestyle rather than just moneymaking, that’s all I am saying.

10 Comments

  1. Samuel on 6 October 2019 at 12:28 pm

    I guess that repeated risks gives you confidence in your own abilities to work your way out of financial anxiety and the rest — one way or another.
    That’s why getting hard won skills when you still have the protective shadow of your parents and less outgoings is the course of wisdom: you have a basis to put confidence in. Like u say; it’s education the whole way thru…parents not getting exasperated and overwhelmed by life and letting children loose into life blind. Tricky to be that mentally healthy as parents and kids I’d say. The world is geared for misery if u don’t know where you’re going.
    Making objects that can be made with mindfulness, that can endure and be beautiful. ‘The search for loveliness’

  2. Andy on 7 October 2019 at 10:58 am

    I once put up my house and some cash for a firm where I worked. The investment came back at 3x the original value and the house remained mine. Would I do it again? Crikey no! Like Paul, I’d invest in myself. At least I’d be in control of my own fate.

  3. Ian Lockwood on 7 October 2019 at 12:20 pm

    Hi Paul, if only we could find a way to tell our young selves that life is a journey. At 52 I do not feel old (apart from my knees). I have had a varied career in social care, Information technology and even managed to do 18 years in the army reserves. All the way through this I was always happiest when creating something weather creating solutions for families in crisis or designing new computer networks for businesses it was the creativeness that I enjoyed never the routine. This year I completed my MBA at the University of Teesside. My original aim was to help me get a better job in the technology field. However the course opened my eyes to a world of entrepreneurial opportunities. I met some great business owners who have like you been on a journey. Right now I am both looking for work and at the same time starting a tool making business to cater for hand tool makers. Hopefully in the new year people will once again be able to buy a 1399 style router plane made in England. What I have discovered is that there are really no limitations to what you can do, just problems to be solved, everyone’s problems are different but if you really want something, get on with solving the problems so you can get it. The distinct difference between people is that some just get on and ‘do it’ and others don’t. You are a ‘do it’ person, I’m trying to do it and getting there slowly. Life can be scary, the journey can be scary, but worth it. Thanks for your continued inspiration. I am an amateur maker my shavings and sawdust may be better than the finished article at times but I get a little better each time I try.

  4. Ken D on 7 October 2019 at 12:50 pm

    Badly made but trendy is an opportunity. To offer trendy but beautifully made alternatives.

    Side by side the public instantly recognise the difference. Set up your stall next to the bodgers and their presence will ease your sales.

    A little tactical savvy is more rewarding than any business plan.

  5. Chris Stasny on 7 October 2019 at 3:26 pm

    I am not afraid to fail. Some projects, as some roads I’ve traveled, have turned out to be dead ends. But when my projects don’t meet the standards that I have set for myself, I am not afraid to throw them in the burn pile and rethink my methods. You have helped greatly in this in both craftsmanship and life.

  6. Dave W on 7 October 2019 at 4:35 pm

    Bloody hell this article rings some bells for me at the moment – not as in this is exactly my experience as such but still.

  7. Anthony Novello on 7 October 2019 at 6:33 pm

    What a way to start my day. Woke up to read the Paul’s posting and was relieved. Relieved because I’m going through that right now. Going through a career change that is somewhat unknown at the moment. Once in architectural field (designing, creating) but not at the moment ( 10 years). Left to help parents who were sick (both gone now) and now trying to decide what to do next.
    Always loved working on projects with my father and now have taken control of tools and set up some kind of a workspace in the garage. Came across your videos and was instantly hooked. It has spiked an interest in working on projects again (just a beginner again). Remembering what was explained to me years ago and now relearning it. I’m excited for what is to come but scared for the unknown (make sense?). Trying to enter into a new career field, unsure if it will work but hopeful for the future. One thing that inspires me is to watch the videos, especially the workbench and plane restoration/setup. I’ve purchased a used plane on eBay and sharpening stones to try what I’ve learned. I will restore the plane and get it ready for it’s new beginning, as well as mine. What happens next will be exciting, but nervous too.

  8. Mike on 8 October 2019 at 2:42 am

    Risk is what life is about. I’ve won a few, lost more. I guess everyone has a different level of tolerance for risk, but the reality is, risk taking is necessary to grow at any point in life.

    Paul mentions business plans written on a scrap of something. My most successful entrepreneurial ventures were simply drawn or written on scraps as well, more strategies and models than details. My failures were detailed multi-page business plan ordeals designed to attract a variety of investor types (for corporations with multi-million dollar revenue streams these are necessary, but not for small enterprise entrepreneurs).

    Thru the ups and downs I’ve learned this simple truth; investor money is more of a burden than a help, so its better to rely upon one’s own skill, tenacity and frugality.

  9. Jim Carter on 8 October 2019 at 6:04 am

    This reminds me of my own life. My wife took the opposite path and I think each worked for or own lives, but I have to wonder how someone could endure 45 plus years in one job.

    • Paul Sellers on 8 October 2019 at 9:04 am

      Ah! Therein is the rub, Jim. When you find your true calling there is no”endure” ing. When you find your true calling you never need to work again. You make it sound like some kind of drudgery, that somehow one job is a mindless occupation perhaps, but it’s not one job when one month you build a bedroom suite and another a beautiful mesquite desk you get to cut the trees for the wood for and then two months later you get deliver to a sixth floor of Houston lawyer’s office. Unpredictability is a remarkable thing. So, perhaps I have had fifty jobs a year throughout my worklife, and I get to travel too.

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